Charged entertainment that perfectly and authentically replicates its comic-book origins, Sam Raimi´s Spider-Man 3 proves a worthy installment to the successful series, albeit less successful as a standalone film than its predecessors. The first film presented an effective origin story, though it was plagued by technical problems; the second was nearly perfect; Spidey 3 falls somewhere in-between – exceptional on a technical level, with an overstuffed script that proves a nearly insurmountable obstacle but nevertheless entertains on a truly grand scale.
Tobey Maguire returns as the titular hero and his alter ego, Peter Parker, now dating childhood friend Mary Jane Watson (Kirstin Dunst) and about to propose to her. But a multitude of problems get in the way: Spider-Man has become widely accepted as a hero in New York, even given the key to the city, causing Peter´s ego to go to his head and resulting in relationship problems with Mary Jane; Harry Osbourne (James Franco) still wants revenge for his father´s death, becoming a new Green Goblin – but will a bout of amnesia solve things? Is Harry still Peter´s friend? Escaped convict Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) – who may have actually been responsible for the death of Uncle Ben – has his molecules bonded with sand, becoming the Sandman and terrorizing the city. And an alien symbiote crash lands in a park and follows Peter home, becoming a new, black Spider-suit (dark in more ways than one), causing further complications in his attitude and personality. Oh yeah, and hotshot reporter Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) vows revenge against Peter after being exposed as a fraud, and just happens to be in the church where Spidey un-bonds with the alien suit. And then there´s the usual crew: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Curt Connors, a new addition (Gwen Stacey), and a ridiculous French waiter played by a delicious Bruce Campbell, all given ample screen time. The only wasted talent: James Cromwell as Captain Stacey (though he´ll be back), and Theresa Russell as Marko´s wife.
It´s all straight out of soap opera, full of coincidences, improbabilities, convenient (amnesia?) and obscure (alien symbiote?) plot devices, and unnecessary complications that could be solved if the characters would just talk to each other (though they only do when the plot dictates) – but I wouldn´t have it any other way. All of it remains true to the comic-book origins, and it´s a testament to director Raimi that we´re able to somehow swallow most of it. The film is stuffed to the brim, however, and many of the plot threads feel rushed; a far cry from the masterful Spider-Man 2, a tighter film where much more care was put into the story. But all the little things are done right here: we´re given time to spend with all the regular characters and a few new ones, most of whom we look forward to seeing in future installments; the CGI is excellent (albeit excessive), the set design masterful, the music (Christopher Young has replaced Danny Elfman) improved – the movie feels perfect, and looks better than any superhero movie that has come before it. But money (a reported $270 million in this case) can buy everything except a good screenplay, and that´s exactly what´s happened here; each scene may look and play perfectly, but they fail to build to a cohesive whole. Still highly entertaining.
NOTE: BEWARE Czech-dubbed versions, which seem to be prevalent on Prague screens. See it in English at Palace Cinemas Slovanský Dům or Village Cinemas Anděl.
A vigorous, over-the-top performance by Ed Harris and a virtuoso Ninth Symphony sequence nearly save Agnieszka Holland´s Copying Beethoven from conventional and underdeveloped melodrama. The setting is 1824 Vienna and Harris is a mostly-deaf Ludwig von Beethoven, desperately trying to finish his Ninth Symphony; young copyist Anna Holt (a wooden Diane Kruger) is sent to assist him. The platonic relationship between these two make up the bulk of the film, with expected scenes of Anna serving as muse and collaborator to the crazed Beethoven, who in turn serves as mentor to the young Holt. None of these angles are played out to a satisfying conclusion, however, and despite an excellent production, the film simply doesn´t work. However, Harris has a lot of fun in the central role, and there´s a fifteen-minute sequence showcasing the premiere of the Ninth Symphony that´s almost worth the price of admission alone: everything comes together here, with wonderful music, fluid cinematography, and a pitch-perfect denouement. It´s so mesmerizing that one wishes we were watching a concert film instead of stale melodrama. Contemporary dialogue and accents almost overwhelm at times; Matthew Goode as Anna´s boyfriend and Joe Anderson as Beethoven´s nephew are particularly distracting. Hungarian locations fill in nicely for 19th Century Vienna. A notch below 1994´s Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved.
An arresting lead performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal carries SherryBaby, a difficult and downbeat film about a troubled young woman. Gyllenhaal stars as Sherry Swanson, just released from prison, attempting to re-adjust to normal life and re-connect with the daughter she hasn´t seen in three years. Stumbling blocks in her way: a parole officer (effectively played by Giancarlo Esposito) watching her every move, an uncaring and ignorant family (including Sam Bottoms as her abusive father), and her brother and sister-in-law, who have been raising her daughter for the past years and want to protect her from any drastic changes. There´s also an unending urge to shoot up for this recovering junkie. Gyllenhaal is terrific as Sherry, carrying the weight of the film on her shoulders while injecting a sense of sympathy into this mostly unlikable character, who makes all the wrong decisions before finally doing something right at the end of the film. Story is a bit conventional, however, and the drama occasionally obvious and/or forced. Not an enjoyable movie in any sense, but worthy of some level of admiration. I´d be more enthusiastic if I wasn´t more impressed by 2004´s similarly-themed Down to the Bone, and by Vera Farmiga´s excellent performance in that film. Still admirable; took honors for best film and best actress at the 2006 Karlovy Vary Film Fest.